Erroneous report impacts Miami condo project

Broker claims Nine at Mary Brickell Village could revert to rentals
By Peter Zalewski | January 28, 2014 01:30PM

Peter Zalewski

Rumors may be the currency of gossipers at the coffee house or local bar but incorrect information disseminated in business circles can ultimately have a bearing on real dollar transactions, especially for condo developers attempting to sell preconstruction units in the competitive Miami market.

Multiple websites, including Curbed and ExMiami, cited a recent social media post from a broker that casted doubt on the future of a new condo tower under construction in Greater Downtown Miami due to struggling sales.

The original source of the information published by multiple blogs was Miami real estate broker Lucas Lechuga of Miami Condo Investments.

The problem is, the condo project in question – Nine At Mary Brickell Village – has entered into sales agreements for half of the proposed units in the 35-story tower, according to project spokesperson Nick D’Annunzio. A ceremony to celebrate the topping off of the high-rise with Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado is scheduled on Wednesday night.

Adding to the confusion in the marketplace, the Nine At Mary Brickell Village is on pace to sell 70 percent of its units by April, putting the tower in a position for success when construction is scheduled to be completed this summer, D’Annunzio said.

There is “zero likelihood” that any of the units at the project would be “reverting” back to rental apartments, he said.

The Nine At Mary Brickell Village project, originally scheduled to be the Sky Palace At Mary Brickell Village under previous developer Evangeline Gouletas, began construction in September 2012 as a rental tower dubbed EnV Brickell.

In August 2013 the project’s current developer, a group led by San Antonio-based Lynd Development, announced the tower would be converted into a condominium and sales would begin immediately.

D’Annunzio suggested the blog posts were the result of “inaccurate reporting” and lackadaisical fact checking.

As a result of the alleged false claims, D’Annunzio and his team of publicists scrambled to put together a formal written response before ultimately deciding to focus instead on the positive news expected to come from this week’s topping-off celebration.

“I really think it was a mistake,” D’Annunzio said. “It wasn’t [information from] a broker that sold in the building but rather someone who was trying to create content for his blog.”

D’Annunzio wouldn’t rule out further action by the development team going forward.

Lechuga has made real estate headlines before.

As the South Florida condo market was crashing about six years ago, Lechuga was forced to admit in a public apology that he posted an inaccurate characterization of a Miami condo developer and his Opera Tower condo project on his website.

In January 2008, developer Tibor Hollo sued Lechuga and his former employer Esslinger Wooten Maxwell, an affiliate of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, for $25 million in a lawsuit accusing the broker of “defamation” for “plain, unadulterated lies” posted on Lechuga’s blog. He had predicted Hollo’s Opera Tower project in Downtown Miami was “doomed,” according to the Miami Herald.

The suit was ultimately dismissed following a private agreement in January 2009 when Lechuga, who was terminated a year earlier by EWM Realtors, published a public apology to Hollo and his companies that admits to writing blog posts that “contained inaccurate statements and misrepresented facts involving you, your firm and your projects,” according to Miami Condo Investments.

When reached on Tuesday, Lechuga said his social media post makes it “perfectly clear” that he was reporting a rumor on the future of the development. Lechuga said he got the information from a source close to the project. He declined further comment.

Peter Zalewski is real estate columnist for The Real Deal who founded Condo Vultures LLC, a consultancy and publishing company, as well as Condo Vultures Realty LLC and CVR Realty brokerages and the Condo Ratings Agency, an analytics firm. The Condo Ratings Agency operates, a preconstruction condo projects website, in conjunction with the Miami Association of Realtors.